Changing Lane

As a relatively young artist, I have found that there is an unspoken expectation to identify with one specific medium, one style, and one subject matter. Of course, people meander a little bit, but generally it feels like those that are more competent and ambitious find their artistic lane and stick in it. Picking up Unison soft pastels for the first-time last summer was a moment of changing lane, of daring to find another route and learning a new language for creative expression.

St Agnes III, pastel painting by Caitlin Heslop.
St Agnes III, by Caitlin Heslop

(St Agnes III was a colour experiment success for me. I love the way the colours work together to capture this coastal scene. The colours used include: R9, R12, R18, R16, BG18, BG17, A51, A50, A54, BV7.)

I made the leap from full time teaching into part time freelance work towards the end of 2019. Even though I studied Art and History of Art at university, and exhibited work in the years following my graduation, I had always created alongside full-time work. Giving 4 days of my working week to my own artistic practice felt like a big step, and one that was greatly helped by the support and encouragement of friends and family.

After a year of predominantly making and selling work in ink and acrylics (see my Botanical Ink drawing tutorial on YouTube), I was then given my first set of Unison Colour soft pastels (starter 63 half stick set) for my thirtieth birthday. An artistic friend had recommended them to me, and they felt like a fun way to experiment and explore colour. I have never worked in soft pastels before as my only memories of them include smudgy messes on rough paper from GCSE art days.

For my first drawing I sat on Manorbier Beach in Pembrokeshire, Wales, by my late Grandparents’ house and took a deep breath. Is it just me who finds making the first mark on a page intimidating? There is so much internal expectation, excitement, and hope, intermingled with self-doubt and uncertainty. Creating is a courageous act.

Manorbier Beach, pastel painting by Caitlin Heslop.
Manorbier Beach, by Caitlin Heslop

That first drawing was so special for me: seeing the vibrancy of colour push back or jump forward as I marked the brown paper; enjoying the interaction of different colours and how they affected their neighbouring colour; letting marks dance and weave together and capturing a place that is so special to me. There was so much joy in discovering this new medium. Though my mark making has changed and developed greatly over the past six months, I still enjoy looking back at those first few pastel imprints I made on Manorbier Beach.

Starting out with soft pastels was so much less intimidating than I first thought. There is such a painterly aspect to the medium that I felt right at home straight away. Though I would describe my pastel works as drawings, there are so many painterly qualities to enjoy about this medium, especially the smooth, buttery texture of Unison’s pastels.

I have always been excited by the vibrancy and liveliness of marks fluctuating between abstraction and realism. I am motivated by a sense of longing to capture the invisible within the visible: the emptiness and substance of space, a dance between what is known and unknown, revealed or concealed. I have previously explored materials that can be thinned to make use of layering to create depth, to play with visibility, whilst maintaining a sensitivity and specificity of marks. My beginning with Unison Colour pastels was no different – I searched out the tonal differences in my subject matter and experimented with layering colours, smudging marks, and laying shapes side by side in a more mosaic-like way.

Home Grown, pastel painting by Caitlin Heslop.
Home Grown, by Caitlin Heslop

Winning the Unison Colour Young Artist award in the Pastel Society’s Annual Exhibition at Mall Galleries was such an encouragement and receiving the Tricia Taylor Seascape 72 prize set has broadened my colour palette greatly ( The set is made up of so many cooler colours, which juxtapose beautifully with the warmer selection in the starter set. As my pastel collection continues to grow, I keep finding new exciting colour combinations and unexpected harmonies to enjoy.

If you are new to soft pastels, or are still admiring from afar, let this blog post be an encouragement to you to give them a go. Delve into them in the ways that you want to; whether it is abstract, realistic, vibrant, or monochrome worlds that capture your interest, Unison Colour pastels provide a means of exploring in new ways!

Holt Pound, pastel painting by Caitlin Heslop.
Holt Pound, by Caitlin Heslop
Waving Arms, pastel painting by Caitlin Heslop.
Waving Arms, by Caitlin Heslop

Each of the works in this blog were created or inspired by locations within the UK.  They consist of natural forms and fluctuate between abstraction and realism. Caitlin is particularly interested in capturing a sense of growth and life within her work, touching on the importance of cultivating growth, and celebrating green spaces both within urban and rural spaces.

For more regular updates follow Caitlin on Instagram @caitlin__heslop

*Caitlin is currently exhibiting some of her work @Blueshopcottage

Caitlin’s website:

The Pause Before the Start

For many of us, our lives are filled with hurry. Creativity is something that we know we value and want to prioritise, and if we are lucky enough to have time for it, we often carry our hurry into our times of creating.

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7 Responses

  1. (Translated)Very interesting works Caitlyn, colorful, picturesque, sunny. I like the variety in genres, as they say, all genres are good except boring. Abstraction impresses me without the reality of realism, which we have been taught since childhood. Color ratios sometimes affect in an incomprehensible way. It’s hard to find words.

    (Original)Очень интересные работы Кэйтлин, красочные, живописные, солнечные. Мне нравится разнообразие в жанрах, как говорится, все жанры хороши кроме скучных. Абстракция производит на меня не передаваемые впечатление вопреки реализму , которому нас с детства обучали. Цветовые соотношения иногда воздействует непостижимым образом. Трудно подобрать слова.

  2. (Translated)Beautiful paintings!
    From Santiago de Chile I send you my congratulations for your work.

    (Original)Hermosas pinturas!
    Desde Santiago de Chile le envío mis felicitaciones por su trabajo.

  3. Caitin’s story of her journey to discovering a new medium, soft pastels, is a very encouraging read. Thank you for sharing this.


  4. A beautiful blog post to encourage young artisit like myself to start experimenting more with Unison Colours soft pastels! Just create, explore and have fun and to discover my own style of creation with these beautiful hand made soft pastels!
    Thank you!

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